Not for Democracy?: Service-learning in Japanese Higher Education as Compared to the United States
Educational Studies in Japan
Service learning (SL) in higher education has been developed in various forms, mainly in the US, with an emphasis on linking services and learning, universities and communities. Many people view higher education as a means to a career which, in turn, renders education a subject of private interest. Owing to this, SL is expected to encourage civic engagement, and the value of SL as a practice of public interest has been garnering attention. In Japan, SL is seen in some advanced SL programs as
... cation for democracy. But what about the general trend? This study aims to identify the general characteristics of SL in Japanese higher education, rather than highlighting the characteristics of advanced cases. For this purpose, a comparative study between Japan and the US was conducted using syllabus data available on the Internet. The results were as follows. Compared to the US, in Japanese SL, students were more likely to be involved in volunteer activities, in which case they were expected to adapt to existing society as an individual citizen, separated from other students. Meanwhile, SL that did not include volunteer activities emphasized developing students' skills. In both cases, political interest was low and there was no mention of (re)constructing students' values and philosophies. The word "democracy" was almost completely absent from the SL syllabus in Japan. These results suggest two possibilities in different directions. One is that Japanese SL may have been reduced to a superficial teaching method used only for skill development and "not for democracy." The other is that Japanese SL teachers try to lead students toward democracy by equipping them with democratic skills that overlap with skills required in the workforce, without indicating that they are "for democracy." From the latter standpoint, especially for passive Japanese students, SL for democracy could only be based on a delicate and dangerous balance between public and private goods.